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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Nyira and the Invisible Boy--Slavery and Child Separation in a Historical Fantasy

While I was thinking about an approach to this review of Nyira and the Invisible Boy by K. M. Harrell, I realized that the opening of this novel related to current events.  Thousands of children have recently been separated from their parents who were seeking asylum in the United States.  I saw mention on social media of separation of families happening in the 18th and 19th century before the abolition of slavery. This timely reminder of shameful history became noteworthy for me because Harrell's historical fantasy contains an example.  It showed the young protagonist being tragically parted from her only parent.

After reading the description and seeing the extraordinary cover on Goodreads giveaways, I purchased a copy of Nyira and the Invisible Boy.  I considered it a must read and buying it was my best option.  Somewhat later, the author contacted me and requested a review.   I voluntarily agreed to provide one.

                             


Regarding the cover, I had already started writing this review when I came across a discussion  of the racist association of African Americans with primates on the blog Reading While White posted by Elisa Gall.  I think that African American author  K. M. Harrell is conscious of this association and was deliberately subverting that racist stereotype by showing gorillas to be superior to humans involved with slavery in his book. It's important to state that this intention is not visible to those whose only contact with this novel is viewing the cover. Yet it seems to me that associating a human being with an animal is only racist, if you accept that animals are inferior to humans.  I have never accepted the idea that humans are the culmination of the process of evolution.  On the scale of evolution, humans are recent.   Human dominance may also be very temporary. Sadly, some key dominant humans seem intent on committing species suicide by ignoring climate change.                      

 But let's get back to Nyira and the Invisible Boy.  The  female central character, Nyira , was a small child when she was  permanently separated from her father. Her village in the Congo during the 18th century, was attacked and destroyed by slavers.  Nyira fled the slavers, and encountered wild animals who were more humane than those humans who were most invested in maintaining slavery.  For a powerful book which focuses on wild animals parenting human children, see my review of the Australian novel Into That Forest here.

Nyira is eventually enslaved and is later transported to what is now known as Haiti where we meet the male protagonist, Enriquillo.

Enriquillo is a Taino.  Wikipedia and numerous other sources will tell you that the Taino were extinct by the  18th century, but Taino genes certainly survive in contemporary Haiti and Puerto Rico.  There are also numerous Taino cultural survivals.  So could there have been secret villages of Taino hiding in the mountains, as we see in Harrell's book?  We don't know for certain.  This is also a fantasy novel that involves paranormal gifts.   I am willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good story, and this is a humdinger of a tale.  There is some cultural verisimilitude. Harell includes a bibliography of books that he consulted on Taino society and customs.  Yet he doesn't claim to be completely authentic.

I believe that the cooperation of Africans and Taino symbolized by the relationship of Nyira and Enriquillo is laying the ground for the future revolution in Haiti.  This is Haiti as I've never seen it before. Despite the horrors and degradations of slavery, I found Nyira and the Invisible Boy inspiring.   I consider it the best indie book that I've read in the first half of 2018.

                         


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